August 27, 2008

Jia Pingwa translation in Guardian

I came across a selection from Jia Pingwa's latest book, Gaoxing, in the Guardian, via Paper Republic. If you are interested in reading it in Chinese, I found the same selection on Dangdang. The selection on Dangdang is just missing a little bit of text at the beginning and end.

I have enjoyed reading Jia's works that have been translated, and it would be great if this selection in the Guardian led to another translation. It's surprising that there have not been any new English translations of Jia's works since Howard Goldblatt's translation of Turbulence in 1991. He is one of China's most popular and critically acclaimed writers, and his banned book Feidu seems like just the kind of things that Westerners would like to see translated.

I considered making a detailed criticism of the translation, but that seems kind of negative, so I'll limit myself to one comment and one criticism concerning the translation.

My eyes felt sticky, as if a lot of goo had suddenly come out of them, and everything looked blurred.
The word translated as "goo" is literally eye-dung in Chinese. "Eye boogers," as they are sometimes called in English, seems like a fairly good match for the Chinese, but it does sound kind of childish. On the other hand, the medical name, rheum, is too technical.

I'd never seen a young man with so many teenage spots...
"Teenage spots" is a literal translation of "pimples" in Chinese. This struck me as the worst translation in this selection.

I have tried to read Jia's writing in Chinese before, and it's not easy, so I don't envy the translator. Jia's writing is a lot more difficult than the average bestseller, though according to the article about Gaoxing on Danwei, this book is more readable than some of his others.

A couple of the things that make Jia's writing interesting are its earthiness, as in the line about the goo coming out of his eyes, and the many details about rural life, which often deal with practices specific to a certain region, such as this:
Then they shouted: "Shangzhou chowmein-eater!" In Shangzhou, where I come from, the land is so barren that last year's grain doesn't last till the next harvest, and at the Spring Festival, all there is to eat is fried noodles, which we make from persimmon mixed with rice husks.

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